Women’s gifts essential to ending abuse crisis, says Sr. Kenny

  • August 12, 2010
Sr. Nuala KennyOTTAWA - Catholic women must use their gifts to address the systemic problems that have led to the Church’s global sexual abuse crisis, said Sr. Nuala Kenny.

The retired pediatrician and Sister of Charity brought this message to the Catholic Women’s League’s (CWL) 90th national convention here Aug. 9. The CWL met in Ottawa from Aug. 7-11.

“As long as we think clergy sex abuse is the individual sin of an individual offender or the individual sin of mismanagement on the part of bishops, we are not going to learn about why,” Kenny told 600 delegates packing a downtown hotel ballroom.

Kenny called clericalism a “fundamental problem.” It is about the protection of image and status, is resistant to criticism and change, she said.

There is a special role for the ordained priesthood, but it is not power and privilege but a call to holiness.

She described herself as a child of Vatican II and its call for empowering the laity, especially the empowerment of women. “Where did that go?” she asked.

Healing requires attention to systemic and cultural forces that have allowed this to happen, she said. 

“The approach has been like giving aspirin for a headache when the cause of the headache is a brain tumour.”

When she started looking at the sexual abuse crisis 20 years ago in Newfoundland, people tried to say it was a local problem, confined to the St. John’s archdiocese.

Clearly, the crisis is global, she said.

She also blamed powerful forces of denial as well as a tendency to minimize the evil sexual abuse causes to victims.

“People are not attentive to the magnitude of harm,” she said, noting that Jesus’ harshest words were for those who would lead little ones astray.

She stressed she is not blaming priests or clergy. The whole Church needs all of us to fix the problem. 

“What kind of a people are we if we didn’t take care of this?” she asked.

Kenny, who taught medical ethics at Dalhousie University and acts as a health policy advisor to the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, has had a front row seat in examining the sexual abuse crisis in the Canadian Church.

Not only did she participate in the inquiry in St. John’s that led to the Winter Commission report, she also contributed to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ response to abuse From Pain to Hope, as well as Break of Faith; Breach of Hope, which was meant to be a discussion document at the parish level.

She said the “brave, wise leadership” in the Canadian Church could contribute its wisdom to the worldwide sexual abuse scandal.

“The suffering is not just to the victims, but to every good, loving, committed priest and bishop I know,” she said, adding they have suffered a form of crucifixion for this scandal.

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